Emma Thomas

Emma Thomas

Journal Entry #1- Movie Reviews

Well I guess it is only proper to start with a “hello” at the beginning. Hello. This is my blog for my travels to New Zealand. I hope to tell the story of the things I see, the people I meet, the experiences I have, and all of the things I learn. But, that is all to come in the next few weeks. For now, I am comfortably tucked in my bed at home awaiting everything that this trip will hold for me and my classmates. Despite the nearly one hundred Google searches about New Zealand that I have done at this point, I still am pretty convinced that we are traveling to another universe. I feel like I have learned so much about every corner of the world except for Australia and New Zealand in school and so my knowledge about what I am going to find is just about nothing. But, I am surprisingly okay with that (at least for now- ask me again when I am actually boarding the plane).

Our first assignment of the trip was to watch three movies set in New Zealand. While this was not only a great way to avoid studying for finals, it was really great to be able to get a small preview of what I would find when I get off the plane. It was not generic like looking at a travel brochure or exploring a New Zealand tourism page online. It was simply getting to experience a collection of stories set in the place I am going to be. These movies gave me some good insights and also made me excited to begin creating my own story in New Zealand.

The first movie I watched was “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”. Let me tell you this was the worst possible choice I could have made for my first movie. I envisioned our group lost, hungry, and dirty in the New Zealand wilderness. Initially, I was very excited that New Zealand is an English-speaking country, until I spent half this movie trying to decipher what they were saying because of the thick accents that I had never heard before. After I got over the initial shock, I really enjoyed the scenery in this movie. I had no idea New Zealand was so lush and green. The brush was seriously spectacular and it was interesting to see how people live off the land in that part of the country. The relationship between Ricky and Uncle also turned out to be very cute and following them on this adventure was generally enjoyable. This movie also left me with some questions about the socioeconomic status of some people in New Zealand. The characters we meet living in the brush and the hunters all seem to be very poor despite the fact that New Zealand is not a generally poor country. I am wondering if there is a large socioeconomic gap like in the United States, or if people like the characters in this movie made a choice to live a more modest life in nature.

The next movie I chose was a complete turnaround from the nature and relatable characters. I watched “What We Do in the Shadows” which is about a group of vampires trying to live and survive in Wellington. Honestly, this movie was seriously absurd and all around just very strange but it was a comedic hour and a half nonetheless. The part that I found really interesting was the fact that Wellington looked really similar to many American cities. This was almost comforting because it could have very easily been a place an hour from my house and it also appears to be a very thriving, young community. Obviously I was not expecting them to show older people at the nightclubs and bars, but the city seems to have a very young crowd which will make it fun to explore. Wellington also seemed to be a more affluent area (being the Economics major that I am, I tend to notice things like that from movies). I found it seriously amusing that the vampires who have beaten mortality were struggling, like most college kids, to do things like pay rent and clean the dishes. Besides the eating people thing, the vampires’ lives seemed very similar to the lives of most people in their twenties in America. In regards to city life, this movie left me not expecting there to be a big culture shock, but I guess we will see. I am also very much hoping to not encounter any vampires on our travels.

My final movie was most definitely my favorite and a great note to end on before I leave for New Zealand. “Pork Pie” was about three unlikely friends who end up on an adventure through New Zealand as they run from the police. They also protest the use of animals and help one of the guys reunite with his true love. Basically, there was a lot going on. The characters were so loveable and each of their stories brought something really cool to the table. My favorite part of this movie was getting so see so many parts of New Zealand. There was more natural places, big cities, and small towns. It was interesting to see such a wide array of landscapes throughout this fairly small country. A big thing I noticed in this movie was the sense of unity amongst the country as a whole. The country rallied around these people and in regards to law enforcement, the three runaways became a problem for the country as a whole. In the US, this would have probably been more of an individual state or region thing, but in New Zealand it was a country thing. Obviously New Zealand is very small compared to the US, but I think that sense of unity is something really special and I hope to feel that while I am there. The accents were also much easier to understand by this third movie so I am hoping that I am prepared to understand the people I will meet on this trip. Also, the fact that they were outlaws in a tangerine Mini was just awesome.

So, that is my review of the three movies I watched prior to our departure. I am really excited to begin our adventure. See you on the flip-side (of the world).

A Parallel History

As an island and a people, New Zealand has chosen to take itself out of the world’s spotlight. This has meant that a lot of their history has been left out of history books around the world and that their culture is not known by many outside of the South Pacific. Through conversations with multiple New Zealanders, I have found that New Zealand has had a very similar past to our own in the United States and that the problems arising in the present are problems that we, Americans, have faced over the last ten years.

When our group arrived in Paihia we really began to get a better picture of the Maori culture, their history, and their place in modern New Zealand. After a short hike in the rain, our tour guide Darryl told us about the Civil War that happened between the English settlers and the Maori people not long after our own Civil War in the States. The Maori fought for equal access to their land and to preserve aspects of their culture that the British tried to take away. The entire time we discussed the oppression of the Maori people and the way they were treated by the British; this all sounded very familiar to me. While our Civil War was not for the exact same reason, it was still people fighting for equal footing and a better place in society. There were also a lot of similarities to the Civil Rights Movement in the States, but it seems that the Maori people have seen better results from their efforts. Not only did they gain equality, their culture has become widely respected and integrated into New Zealand society. The Maori language is one of the national languages, their traditions are taught in schools, and their culture is prevalent all around the country.

In our conversations with residents of Auckland, and especially with the students at AUT, it seems as though the Maori and many other ethnicities are very happily accepted in New Zealand. There appears to be a great respect for the diversity and all of the cultures that have come together here due to booming immigration. However, when the students discussed how much they liked living in their diverse neighborhoods and how many interesting opportunities have arisen from the mixing cultures, my original perspective that the mixing of cultures was peaceful began to change; it is as if the students felt forced to say that diversity is a good thing because of spontaneous face-to-face conversations.

In deeper conversations with Darryl and before we visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, it became very apparent that the Maori people are not treated completely as equals in New Zealand. Darryl said that he has recently seen “racism rearing its ugly head” all over the country. It seems like people on the surface think everything is okay, but do not inherently believe it. There is some looming animosity from New Zealanders toward all of the immigrants and the Maori people. This is natural human instinct to protect your own culture and way of life. It is interesting to observe because it’s how America has been for the last 40-50 years. While all seems fine on the surface, there is a certain unrest for many Americans when it came to immigration and the mixing of cultures.

The main difference is that New Zealand has not hit the tipping point that American has had. They have not had their Ferguson, Missouri. They have not reached the point where the feelings and talk have turned into action. It is scary to feel like that could be coming for the people of New Zealand but there is also no way to keep it from happening. It is very interesting to me to see this parallel and feel like the same problems we have faced as a nation could be arising elsewhere. I began to think a lot about whether the US could stand to learn something from New Zealand in regards to how they kept such peace for so long with all the cultures coming together on such a small island. I also thought about whether New Zealand could stand to learn something from the US in regards to how we have dealt with the unpleasant actions that have stemmed from the discomfort that comes with changing and evolving national identity. The parallels between our two countries are very apparent, and I believe that we as cultures could both be better off if we tried to learn from the one another. At the same time, both countries seem to be proof that it may be nearly impossible to truly create one united national identity, no matter how hard they may try.

What Remains in Christchurch

After almost two weeks of what felt like constant moving around, we had the opportunity to spend a few days in Christchurch. This was our first city on the South Island of New Zealand and it was a nice change of pace. There were small but noticeable differences in the people and the culture of the South Island- similar to those found when moving between states at home. There was far less diversity and much more English influence than in a city like Auckland. I really enjoyed getting to explore Christchurch a bit more than some of the other places we have been because we got a perspective of New Zealand that was not as focused on the mixing of cultures and booming immigration. We got to focus on understanding the history of the city, the adversity the city has faced in the last 10 years, and the people who are truly New Zealanders.

Christchurch is a city with a rich history that has unfortunately been devastated by two terrible earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The influence of the original English settlers is very prevalent in things like the names of streets, the designs of the parks, and the overall appearance of the city. I think Christchurch has stayed this way because immigration has not had a very strong influence and many of the people we talked to had lived in the area for a long time. I felt like this gave us a chance to experience a more authentic New Zealand culture.

Despite the beauty and culture, what remains in Christchurch after the earthquakes that literally leveled the city is very sad and left me almost disappointed. It has been seven years since the last earthquake and the skyline is still fragmented, empty plots of land fill the city, and residential neighborhoods are nearly nonexistent. On the surface this does not seem like this would be very surprising except for the fact that in conversation with the people of the city, they seemed content with their half rebuilt city. There did not seem to be any sense of urgency to regain the displaced population, restart the economy, or get the city back to it’s previous prosperity.

Now, as negative as this may sound, there have been some groups that have done amazing work to get the city back on its feet and they deserve credit. The Student Volunteer Army at the University of Canterbury is an organization of about 2700 students that was started as a response to the initial disasters. They helped clean up debris, liquefaction, and gave Christchurch a lot of hope in the face of tragedy. Seven years later they are still doing a lot of great work around the city and inspiring people to be civically engaged in the community. There is also the Gap Filler project that is spreading around the city. This project aims to fill empty lots with artwork, gardens, a playground that is fun for adults and kids, and my personal favorite- a dance floor with a washing machine for a speaker. These projects are doing an amazing job at helping to beautify the city and they are building community by giving people a place to gather and be together. Both of these groups are working diligently to bring back Christchurch, but unfortunately they just are not big enough or powerful enough to completely rebuild the city from the devastation it faced.

To say that Christchurch is throwing a bit of a pity party for themselves may be a little harsh, but I think that there is something a little off about the fact that the people seem almost eager to tell you about how they were devastated by earthquakes. I find it sad that it has become the main point of conversation for tourism in a city with an incredibly rich history. In America there is such an urgency to come back even stronger and bigger after a disaster and rebuild as quickly as possible. This sentiment does not exist here and maybe it’s because of a lack of funding or resources, but maybe it’s because the people have become complacent with where the city is at this point. It bothered me a lot to see this because the city has a lot of potential. I wonder if these groups who started this movement towards the rebuild will be able to continue to inspire the community to get back on their feet. I would also like to see New Zealand as a country, rally behind Christchurch and help them get back to being a booming city on the South Island once again. What remains in Christchurch is something I have not experienced before- complacency in the wake of tragedy. I only hope that Christchurch can find the spirit to come back and redefine themselves not as the city destroyed by the earthquakes, but as the city that is better for having faced the adversity of total destruction.

The Implications of Globalization

Since I have traveled out of the country many times in my life, I was prepared to face culture shock when I arrived in New Zealand. Going to places as far as Spain and as close as Canada, I have always faced some degree of culture shock that made being in the country at least a little uncomfortable for some period of time. Here I am at the very end of my New Zealand adventure and still no culture shock. I think I have spent a lot of this trip waiting to be surprised or maybe even bothered, but it has not ever come. I thought it was a little odd that they call my skim latte a trim latte or that they say take away instead of to go, but I doubt anyone would really consider this to be culture shock. In these last few days I have spent some time thinking about why it never hit me in any of the cities we visited and about why New Zealand is different from the other places in the world I have travelled to. In the most general terms, the best thing I can come up with is that globalization is starting to destroy the uniqueness of cultures. Globalization is hurting individualization in the world and the lack of culture shock I have felt in New Zealand is a testament to that.

The way technology has been able to connect all corners of the world is honestly insane to me. It is so easy for people in New Zealand to connect with people in the States and vice versa. In conversations at Victoria University, the students said they were so used to listening to American music and watching American movies that they did not even hear our accents anymore. I thought that it was crazy that they were so in tune with American culture that they did not even recognize a southern accent in some of my classmates. This was a good representation of how New Zealand, as a country, has become very Americanized because of technology and globalization.

Language is probably a big factor in the lack of culture shock I felt here as well. Most of the other countries I have travelled to have not spoken English which in itself makes it hard to adjust to being in that country. Since New Zealand is a predominantly English speaking country, nothing is really lost in translation. They can watch our movies and television shows without subtitles and they can read American literature without having meanings changed through rough internet translations. The spreading of English as a language is bringing the world closer together but also pushing people away from native languages like Maori. As nice and easy at it was to communicate here, it was almost weird to be so far from home and so comfortable in conversation.

It was almost scary how much it seemed like I was walking down the streets of an American city most of the time we were in New Zealand. It is becoming increasingly harder to tell where New Zealand culture stops and American culture starts. I ate a chicken po boy for dinner and listened to ‘Wagon Wheel’ in a bar one night and I thought about how I could have just as easily been in Tuscaloosa, Alabama doing the exact same thing. It has been kind of sad when my friends and family have asked me how I like New Zealand culture and food and I have to tell them that it is pretty much exactly the same as America. I think that this is probably true in most developed, English speaking nations in the world. The things that make these places individual are starting to fade as technology is making it increasingly easier to be alike. In general I think globalization can be a really good thing. It is cool that I will be able to leave New Zealand and still follow the news and politics in the country and see the New Zealand movies that come out next year. But, I think that globalization is making it easier to assimilate and easier to push away unique culture. This trip has been an absolutely incredible experience with some amazing people. I have learned so much about New Zealand’s history, culture, and people. As nice as it was to be able to enjoy this trip without dealing with the discomfort of culture shock, I almost wish I could have found New Zealand to be a more unique place with a unique culture that did not feel so much like home.